Much of Allen Tate’s popular reputation as a poet rests on a single poem, “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” written before he was twenty-six years old. It brought its author considerable fame both in the United States and abroad, but unfortunately it “typecast” him. Tate later wrote poems that were perhaps better and certainly ideologically different, but he was and still is so strongly identified with that work that his later poetry was for the most part neglected.
If the public saw him as a one-poem poet, however, he fared better at the hands of critics. He received a number of honors, including many honorary degrees; perhaps his most outstanding award was the National Medal for Literature in 1976. He also received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1948, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1957, the Brandeis University Medal for Poetry in 1961, the Gold Medal of the Dante Society of Florence in 1962, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1963, and the Lenore Marshall Prize for Poetry in 1978 for Collected Poems, 1919-1976. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1949 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1965. He served as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (poet laureate) from 1943 to 1944. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1949 and served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 1966 to 1979.
Tate was one of the most widely known of the Agrarian/Fugitive poets. While some of his themes, techniques, and concerns were similar to those of his southern colleagues, unlike some of them, he was not labeled (and subsequently dismissed as) a “regional” poet. Tate was as popular and as comfortable in the literary circles of New York and Europe as he was in that of his Vanderbilt associates, and his poetry demonstrates that southern concerns are universal concerns as well.